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5g                                                                                                           B. POLEVOI
to his horror that he would be unable to get out without
assistance. This thought impelled him to make one more
effort to climb up the slippery side, but he succeeded in
raising himself only a little when he slipped down again,
exhausted and helpless.
"This is the end! Nothing matters now!
He curled up at the bottom of the crater, conscious of
a frightful sense of repose that unmagnetised and
paralysed his will, creeping over his whole body. Listless-
ly he drew the tattered letters from his tunic pocket, but
he had no strength to read them. He took out from its
cellophane wrapper the photograph of the girl in the print
frock sitting on the grass in a meadow. With a sad smile,
he asked her:
"Is it really good-bye?"—and suddenly he gave a
start and remained transfixed with the photograph in his
hand. It seemed to him that he had heard a familiar sound
up in the cold, frosty air, high up above the forest.
He at once cast off his lethargy. There was nothing
particular about that sound. It was so faint that even
the sensitive ear of a forest animal would have been
unable to distinguish it from the monotonous rustle of
the ice-covered tree tops. But by a peculiar whistling note
in it Alexei guessed unerringly that it came from an
"11-16", the type of plane that he flew.
The drone of the engine drew nearer, grew in
volume and changed now to a whistle and now to a groan
as the craft veered in the air, and, at last, high up in
the grey sky, Alexei saw a tiny, slowly-moving cross,
disappearing into and emerging from the grey, misty
clouds. He could already see the red stars on its wings,
and right over his head it looped the loop, glistening in
the sun as it did so, banked and flew away. Soon the drone
of its engine ceased, drowned by the gentle rattle of the
ice-covered branches swaying in the wind, but for a long
time after Alexei thought that he still heard that subtle,
whistling sound.
He pictured himself in the cockpit. In an instant,
even before a man could smoke a cigarette, he could
be back in his own forest airfield. Who was in that plane?
Perhaps it was Andrei Degtyarenko, out on a morning
patrol. He used to climb high on those flights in the secret